F4 U.S. front-runners struggle at NJMP

F4 U.S. front-runners struggle at NJMP

SCCA / SportsCar Magazine

F4 U.S. front-runners struggle at NJMP

The fast turns of the Thunderbolt circuit at New Jersey Motorsports Park collected drivers from the front to the back of the 32-car field in the first round of the penultimate Formula 4 United States Championship Powered by Honda event Saturday. Jose Blanco of San Juan, Puerto Rico, drove a near perfect race to take his third checkered of the season. Dakota Dickerson, who broke the series record for consecutive points finishes last event, continued to add to his streak, capturing a second-place finish and Arthur Leist rallied in the final laps of the race to secure the last podium spot in an all green flag race.

“My Crosslink/Kiwi Motorsport team gave me a great car and I drove a great race today. I am really happy with how we put everything together. It gives me great confidence for the next rounds,” said Blanco. “I want to thank all my supporters back in Puerto Rico who have been following me all season.”

Beating Dickerson by just over one tenth of second in qualifying, Teddy Wilson started on pole in Round 13 with Dickerson lining up in the front row for the F1-style standing start. Crosslink/Kiwi teammates Blanco and Leist started from Row 2 with championship contenders and Denmark countrymen Benjamin Pedersen and Christian Rasmussen challenging from Row 3.

Blanco got the jump on the start, going two wide with Dickerson into Turn 1 and Turn 2. The DC Autosport with Cape Motorsports driver won the battle and set his sights on the frontrunner Wilson. The Jay Howard Driver Development rookie defended his lead, but Dickerson continued to quickly close in, all while trying to hold off another JHDD driver from the overtake.

After a strong charge from sixth, Rasmussen challenged Dickerson for second. Attempting to pass in Turn 3, Rasmussen clipped the back wheel of Dickerson’s No. 9 Stress Engineering Services /RoxBalden car, sending Rasmussen spinning and Dickerson wide onto the curbing. The rumble strip sucked Dickerson off course, causing him to drop two wheels into the grass. Dickerson recovered but lost position to Blanco. Rasmussen eventually continued on his own power, but lost valuable time and field position, dropping back to 11th.

Once he slipped by Dickerson and Rasmussen, Blanco closed in on Wilson, timing the gap on the front straight. Using the slipstream from Wilson’s No. 4 CSU One Cure machine, Blanco got a run on Wilson, positioning himself on the inside of Turn 1 for the overtake in the braking zone. Blanco stole the lead on Lap 3 and never surrendered the entire 30-minute session.

After losing position to Blanco, the dogfight between Dickerson and Wilson began. Lap after lap, Dickerson pressured Wilson from behind, sticking closely to his gearbox. Wilson defended his race line for 12 laps until he suffered the same fate as Dickerson. Hitting the high curbing, the rumble strip collected another driver, shunting Wilson off course. He too recovered but the off-course excursion wrecked his chances at another podium run.

“The curbing here just sucks the car right in,” said Wilson. “The field upfront is so close that one mistake can make the difference from finishing on the podium to out of points.”

Pedersen also struggled with the Thunderbolt circuit, dropping wheels off in nearly the same spot as Wilson and Dickerson. The season-long championship runner fell from fifth to finish the race in eighth.

While the frontrunners faced several challenges throughout the race, Kent Vaccaro experienced a breakout round. Starting just outside of points position in 11th, the F4 U.S. sophomore rallied for a top-five finish, the highest of his F4 U.S. career, and secured the fastest lap of the session to start on pole for Round 14, which was another first for the Skip Barber Momentum F4 driver.

“Last year I didn’t score a single championship point. I was happy when I was battling for a 16th-place finish,” said Vaccaro. “I am super happy for Momentum and I am super happy for to get pole for Skip Barber on their home track.”

James Raven finished in fourth, Vaccaro, Joshua Car. Wilson, Pedersen, Rasmussen and Francisco “Kiko” Porto completed the top 10.

In qualifying, the top six times beat the F4 U.S. qualifying lap record set by 2016 champion Cameron Das and the top-five times were separated by under four tenths of a second.

Full results can be viewed at F4USChampionship.com.

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